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18. Comments moderation

A figurehead of web users on information websites, comments must be treated cautiously in web newsrooms. Moderating them allows creating and maintaining a community. They also bring information and expertise.

Room for comments

A common rule on the web states that, on an information website :

  • 90% web users read
  • 9% comment occasionally
  • 1% comment regularly and assiduously

Be mindful then not to mix up serial commenters and your actual community. This especially since among “regulars”, only a few comment more than once a day. Hence the strange feeling that some usernames come up all the time in comment threads.

Moderation systems

There are two ways to moderate comments. Moderation before publication is the most used. On traditional media websites, it’s often outsourced. Moderators check whether comments are courteous and whether they break any laws. Sometimes, writers deal with comments for their own articles. This allows a discussion between the newsroom and the readers. When a reader asks a question, the author can answer directly.

Post-moderation, after the comment has been published, is used more and more, thanks to the obligation for commenters to register and get an account on the website. Some websites actually make you register under your true identity, which makes for more serious contributions. In such case, journalists act as moderators, and the newsroom is properly involved.

Rules for good community moderation

The first rule is inspired by the NYPD’s broken windows theory. If you don’t replace broken glass, your street will quickly become chaotic, then end up a lawless place. Everyone will feel free to mess it up a little more. If you replace the windows, you’re sending a clear signal. It’s the same in a discussion thread : if journalists don’t intervene quickly, debate will get out of hand pretty fast. If they do, tensions will lower and web users will understand that Internet is also a public space in which you can’t be as offensive as you’d like.

Second rule : put some humor (and a lot of humility) in your discussions. This is basic web courtesy, also called “netiquette”, expected standard behavior on the Internet.

Third rule : don’t make yourself play the part of someone you’re not. Respect your character, how you discuss things, how you defend your point of view and your work. No one will mind. If you act like something you’re not, people will inevitably notice.

Fourth rule : if you’ve made a mistake or don’t know how to answer a question, admit it (it happens to everybody). No one will mind. However, if you start climbing your ivory tower against all reason, the blogosphere will react badly.

Fifth rule: defend your opinions and your work. The time for so-called journalistic objectivity has come and gone with the arrival of Web 2.0. As long as you do your job honestly and respect the principle of contradictory writing (giving pro and against arguments), no one will be mad because you’ve got your own point of view on the news

What to do with trolls ?

Trolls are anonymous commenters with only one goal in mind: ruining a discussion thread. Be they provocative, know-it-alls, aggressive or insulting, you must remember one rule: don’t feed the trolls ! If you start arguing with them you’re never going to be done because they only live to ruin the debate.